TODAY’S STUDY: CALIFORNIA NEW ENERGY GOES FROM VENTURE CAPITAL TO BIG CAPITAL
Cleantech Investment: A Decade of California’s Evolving Portfolio.
September 25, 2013 (Next 10)
The clean technology (cleantech) sector is a vital part of the economy, generating new jobs and businesses while making California’s transition toward a cleaner and more efficient economy possible. Through the creation of products and services that assist this shift towards clean, low-carbon- based products and processes, cleantech companies are changing the economic and global landscape.
Investment fuels cleantech innovation. In the last few years, funding for cleantech companies has evolved as early technologies, like solar and wind power, have taken hold and new technologies, such as advanced biofuels and more efficient batteries, continue to emerge. A decade’s worth of data provides a holistic view of how the cleantech sector is maturing, with investments in companies ranging from early stage angel funding to late stage project finance. Recent trends show that while early stage venture capital (VC) ebbed after a surge in experimentation, later stage investments have increased in the last five years.
Additionally, as companies grow and clean technologies become mainstream, different types of investors are participating in the market in a more substantial way. Corporations are playing an increasingly prominent investment role as they identify strategic growth prospects and establish valuable partnerships to deploy cleantech products and services. Though down from peak levels, VC investors are still actively engaging with cleantech companies. In addition, institutional and public investors have increasing opportunities to invest in technology implementation and publicly-traded cleantech companies. This report illustrates emerging trends in California’s cleantech investment portfolio and shows that financing for development, growth, and deployment of cleantech products has grown over the past ten years while new investors have become involved.
Key findings in this report include:
• While many focus on VC investment as an indicator of growth in the sector, it is important to expand that view as cleantech products and services move toward deployment.
• Development & Growth investment contributed to the expansion of the cleantech sector. This direct investment into startup companies is more than three times higher in the first half of 2013 compared to the first half of 2003. More recently, investment is down about 22 percent from the second half of 2012 to about $900 million in the first half of 2013.
• Project financing for the deployment of cleantech products was more than three times higher in 2012 than in 2007. California’s estimated share of project finance investment in the United States rose above 40 percent in the first half of 2013, though investment levels were down from the spike in the second half of 2011.
• Despite the drop-off since the peak of investment in 2010 and 2011, there are still twice as many VC and corporate investors involved in the cleantech sector today than in the first half of 2003, when the industry was just taking off.
• Corporations play a pivotal role as strategic investors in cleantech companies. Over the last ten years, the number of VC deals with corporate involvement has increased and at least 24 percent of cleantech VC deals had corporation participation over the last three years. In the last decade, the average VC deal amount has been an average of 48 percent higher if corporations were involved in the round.
California’s Cleantech Investment Portfolio
Known for being at the forefront of innovation, California is spurring change in industries of all shapes and sizes; the cleantech sector is no exception. This report explores a decade of cleantech investment in California, detailing an evolving portfolio at different stages in the life of a company, ranging from research and development of a new product, to company expansion, to product release or installation.
Cleantech companies utilize different types of investments, depending on the activities and stage of the company. While many focus on VC investment as an indicator of growth in the sector, it is important to broaden that view as cleantech products and services move toward deployment. Cleantech companies have made tremendous progress developing new technologies in the last ten years. Different types of investment have gained prominence as companies prove that the developing technologies are viable, reliable and profitable in California’s economic and policy context.
California’s cleantech investment portfolio can be grouped into two main categories of company activities: Development & Growth and Deployment (Figure 1). The Development & Growth category includes investments into startup companies, such as government grants or angel investment to fund research and development of a product, as well as VC or debt financing to help scale company capacity or commercialize a product. The Deployment category focuses on implementing technologies and includes investments such as project financing to fund installations of cleantech products. Although the two categories represent a simplification of the wide range of investments and stages in cleantech companies’ paths, they are helpful to illustrate the general roles and diversity of cleantech investment in California.
There is extensive variation within the cleantech sector regarding the types and amounts of investment required in commercialization and implementation. Some cleantech products are capital intensive to develop and grow to commercial scale. For example, researching and manufacturing a new type of window or alternative vehicle engine may require more Development & Growth capital or rounds of investment than an online energy efficiency software product. Deployment investment also varies with technology cost, demand, risk and public policies.
Considering the decade as a whole, total cleantech investment in California has increased substantially from its early market years. Figure 2 illustrates that investment activity was more concentrated in Development & Growth in the early part of the decade to research and create new products while the cleantech sector was still emerging, such as investments targeting new thin-film solar technologies. While this early stage capital is still critical for new companies and technologies, financing allocated to Deployment is increasingly important to the expansion of the sector, such as funding to develop new utility scale solar or wind projects. The portfolio of investments within each category has also shifted; as installations of cleantech products and services pay off for investors, early stage financing such as debt and corporate VC, and deployment investment such as project financing, have grown to help fund cleantech activities. The remainder of this report explores these two categories in more depth and highlights that while financing for Development & Growth and been declining, financing for Deployment has been growing, indicating a maturing of the cleantech sector.
Cleantech Development and Growth Investments
Investment in Development & Growth activities help cleantech companies research, refine, commercialize, and scale new products and services. This section explores the changing types of investment and investors, the increasing importance of corporate strategic investors, and the value of cleantech company exit activity.
The Types of Investment in Cleantech Companies are Diversifying
Overall cleantech investment in private companies has fluctuated over the past few years, though the types of investment have become more diverse in the last decade. New capital sources are emerging as more investors gain understanding of the technologies and value proposition of the cleantech sector. Investment levels were down about 22 percent from the second half of 2012 to about $900 million in the first half of 2013, though investment is more than three times higher than the first half of 2003 (Figure 3).
Financing in the early 2000s was dominated by traditional VC firms, who are generally more willing to move first in a sector and accept higher risk investments. In recent years, these firms have remained an important source of funding, but other types of investment such as debt financing from banks and involvement from the VC arms of large corporations have become more prominent. To illustrate this, Figure 4 shows that while total public and private cleantech investment amounts were roughly the same in 2012 and 2008, traditional VC was by far the primary investment type in 2008, while in 2012 corporations were involved in more VC deals and debt financing served as an important source of funding. Investment in cleantech is dominated by the private sector, though the government played a noticeable role during the recession; loan guarantees from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act boosted debt financing in the second half of 2009 and first half of 2011.
Despite the drop-off since the peak of investment in 2010 and 2011, there are still twice as many VC and corporate investors involved in the cleantech sector today in California than in the first half of 2003, when the industry was just taking off (Table 1). More recently, the number of corporate investors is down 44 percent since the first half of 2011, while the number of venture capital investors dropped 51 percent over the same time. Corporate investors have remained relatively steady in the sector in the recent year and are still up from the first half of 2009, while venture capitalists have continued to withdraw.
Venture Capitalists Still Play a Key Role in Cleantech Companies
Venture capital is one of the primary avenues for startup companies to secure the capital needed to create new, innovative products and services. While other types of investors are also important to help grow and expand the cleantech market, venture capitalists play a unique role because of their tolerance for early stage, high-risk investments and management expertise. Though overall venture capital investment has declined in the past year, there are still many venture capital firms that continue to invest and see strong prospects in the cleantech market. In addition to the investors profiled below, venture firms such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Khosla Ventures VantagePoint Capital Partners, and Draper Fisher Jurvetson continue to be active players in cleantech with multiple investments in the first half of 2013. Other venture firms continue to raise new cleantech funds, such as Silver Lake’s $653 million for its Kraftwerk Cleantech fund announced in August 2013.
Enthusiasm for clean technologies drove a climb in venture capital investment between 2008 and 2011. During that period, many non-specialized investors, in anticipation of being part of the cleantech movement, sought new cleantech companies for their portfolios. The market surged with this influx of cleantech companies and investors, and subsequently struggled, as a portion of the emerging companies did not perform to expectations. This surge represents a normal bunching effect; when too many investors enter an emerging industry it is followed by a shake out as there is limited market opportunity. This contributed to some investors moving away from the industry or reorganizing their strategies toward cleantech.3 The fluctuation in cleantech follows the natural “hype cycle” of a new industry.4 Internet sector jobs in the mid to late 1990s illustrate the effect of this type of hype cycle. The commercial development of the Internet in 1993 helped software jobs grow by more than 150 percent and jobs in computer networking double between 1992 and 1998. However, the employment growth created during the Internet bubble was not sustainable and led to a dramatic loss of employment in the early 2000s.5 Despite this downturn, the internet sector continues to create new jobs and technologies.
As the cleantech industry matures, VC firms move to invest more strategically and many remain optimistic about the cleantech sector’s prospects. Specifically, these firms are identifying and investing in the cleantech companies at the forefront of market trends such as the demand for energy storage to support the increase in renewable energy, interest in consumer facing products, the increasing demand for electric vehicles, and the move towards smart buildings and energy management…
The cleantech sector has experienced dynamic change over the last decade, but it also created an opportunity for investment that can generate economic and environmental benefits. California’s cleantech investment portfolio is increasingly diversified, with new types of investment growing and an increasing focus on later stage deployment financing as the sector matures. These trends are apparent when viewing them over the last decade, rather than focusing on recent declines in investments like early stage venture capital.
This is an exciting time for the cleantech sector, as new investors and investment models continue to emerge. Corporations are playing an important role as strategic investors in cleantech companies, helping companies fill funding rounds, penetrate established markets, and providing access to corporate customers and industry knowledge. More individual and institutional investors are involved in cleantech and are realizing returns on investments in private and public companies and cleantech projects, such as energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy installations. New deployment financing types are emerging and growing, such as bonds and REITs. As public and private institutions work through regulatory and market hurdles to open access to these financial mechanisms and reduce risk to investors, the cleantech sector will have more opportunities to grow. These changes to California’s investment portfolio, in both Development & Growth and Deployment activities, will further advance California’s cleantech sector.